Virgin’s big pitch for its inflight entertainment system is that it’s free. But is it any good?
Some time back, I reviewed Jetstar’s in-flight entertainment service; as a low-cost carrier, its pitch is that you can “rent” an iPad for in-flight entertainment. For my take on that offering, you can click here.
Virgin Australia’s pitch is something different. I recently flew on Virgin Australia from Sydney to Adelaide for personal reasons, and discovered that the airline instead takes the view that you’ve probably got a device on you, so what you really need is the entertainment aspect. A quick-but-necessary editorial disclaimer: I write the technology pages for Virgin Australia’s in-flight magazine, Voyeur. Make of that what you will.
Virgin Wireless Inflight Entertainment: On the plus side
It’s free. That might not seem like a big thing, but for a carrier that sits somewhere between the budget approach of Jetstar (where you pay for the aforementioned iPads) and the premium pricing of Qantas (where you generally, but not always get in-seat entertainment) free is a nice addition to have. In economy you pay for pretty much everything else, so a “free” inclusion is decent.
The actual included programming is relatively wide. The movies aren’t the freshest things ever, but there was enough selection there that I could spot a few things I’d while away the flight time with if I wanted a movie. Ultimately, that’s what these systems are for; passing the time away until you wait to land.
For the record, I opted to start watching Arrow, another of those series that had been on my “I probably should start watching this” radar. I may come to regret that later on, but this isn’t Virgin Australia’s fault, strictly speaking.
The app itself is surprisingly smooth; it works by connecting to an in-flight WiFi system and then streaming to an iOS or Android device. You’re not exactly watching an HD masterpiece, but at the same time it’s perfectly watchable fare.
Virgin Wireless Inflight Entertainment: On the minus side
It seems a little rough to criticise a free service, but there are a couple of caveats that are worth bearing in mind. The service runs via an App, and it’s one you’ll need upfront. If you’re a frequent Virgin Australia flyer, that’s no big deal, but if you find yourself on the plane wanting to watch, there’s no way to get the app once you’ve taken off.
(again, for the record I got past this by a quick bit of phone tethering on the ground while the doors were still open and phone use was permitted. You’ve got to be quick in that scenario, though)
Likewise, headphones aren’t provided. You could broadcast your choice to the entire plane, but I’d reserve the right to throw those tiny cups of water at you if you did. Be warned.
There’s also a host of devices that it skips over, from laptops to Windows Phone 8 to Blackberry. Can you make everyone happy? I’m not sure there, although from the looks of the iOS version I used, the infrastructure is via Lufthansa, so it may be that Virgin Australia doesn’t have much development power this way.
The final small problem is a standard one for any electronic device, and that’s the fact that you’ve still got to power down on landing. With recent changes in the US and Europe this could soon be a thing of the past, but for right now, compared to in-seat options that are often left running until you land, it’s slightly irritating.
Virgin Wireless Inflight Entertainment: Pricing
The app and access to it is free for eligible flights, although Virgin Australia’s own notes suggest it’s rolling the app out across its fleet in a progressive manner, and content offerings differ based on the length of your flight.
That’s “free once you’ve paid the airfare”, naturally.
Virgin Wireless Inflight Entertainment: Fat Duck verdict
It’s hard to argue with a free service that costs you nothing more than a little bit of battery power.
It’s not exactly a reason to fly with a given airline overall — I strongly suspect that anyone flying these days is looking more towards factors such as ticket price when choosing their carrier — but it’s a decent service that at least in my testing worked well at turning a multi-hour flight into a relatively stress-free experience.